On May 23rd the New York State Assembly Health Committee approved the Medical Aid in Dying Act (A.10059/S.7579) by a 14-11 vote. The bill is sponsored by Assemblywoman Amy Paulin and a bipartisan group of Assemblymembers, including Health Committee Chair Richard Gottfried (the bill is sponsored by Senator Diane Savino in the Senate). A full list of Assembly sponsors can be found here. On May 10th EOLCNY staff and volunteers travelled to Albany and personally lobbied for passage of the bill.
David C. Leven, Executive Director of End of Life Choices New York thanked all the sponsors of the bill, saying “Our gratitude goes to Chairman Gottfried, Assemblywoman Paulin, the other sponsors of the bill, and the members of the Assembly Health Committee for this historic, first-ever approval of the Medical Aid in Dying Act, which would allow terminally ill, mentally competent, adult patients to self-administer prescribed medicines if their suffering becomes unbearable. It provides a compassionate way for dying patients to achieve a peaceful death of their choosing.
“The bill has numerous safeguards and protections for what has proven to be a rarely used but safe practice in several other states, including Oregon, where it has been the law for nearly two decades with no problems whatsoever. However, knowing that aid in dying exists as a legal option provides peace of mind to thousands of terminally ill patients,” Leven said.
Assembly sponsor Amy Paulin said, “Moving the bill out of the Health Committee is a great step forward in our efforts to allow medical aid in dying in New York. I am very pleased that the committee members, under the leadership of the chair, Richard Gottfried, have enabled us to continue on the path to providing mentally competent, terminally ill adults the choice as to whether and when to end their own lives. I look forward to engaging further in thoughtful dialogue with my colleagues so that we can enact into law this end of life option that 77% of New Yorkers support.”
“This bill is about patient autonomy and dignity,” Gottfried said. “It meets all the moral and legal standards we look to in reviewing legislation in the Health Committee. The law already allows adults with capacity to refuse life-saving treatment. Similarly, they should have the right to end their suffering through medication if that is their own choosing.”
The next step is for the bill to be reviewed by the Assembly Codes Committee. Leven said, “While it is clearly unlikely the Medical Aid in Dying Act will be approved by the State Legislature before its session ends in June, we intend to push for its passage and continue to increase support among legislators as we educate them about this compassionate legislation that is strongly supported by a majority of New Yorkers.”
On May 3 the Appellate Division, First Department, affirmed a lower court ruling dismissing our lawsuit, Myers v. Schneiderman, which EOLCNY initiated to establish medical aid in dying in New York. We plan to pursue an appeal in the Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court.
David Leven, EOLCNY Executive Director said “We still think that if we have the opportunity to have a full factual record developed, with oral testimony from our plaintiffs and experts, that we should have a reasonable chance of success on the merits, assuming that we prevail in the Court of Appeals.”
In reacting to the decision, Kathryn Tucker, Executive Director of Disability Rights Legal Center and co-counsel in the case said “The decision is very disappointing. The key error here was that this intermediate appellate court reached the merits at this very preliminary stage of proceedings. This was the same error of the lower court. This case deserves to go forward for development of a factual record from which the legal theories would then be argued.”
Steve Goldenberg has died at the age of 56. He was one of the patient plaintiffs in the lawsuit EOLCNY initiated seeking to legalize aid in dying in New York.
“Steve’s willingness to participate as a plaintiff in a lawsuit seeking to expand end of life liberty while he was in the final stage of his illness was an act of extraordinary generosity and public service,” said Kathryn Tucker, Director of the End of Life Liberty Project of the Disability Rights Legal Center and one of the attorneys representing Steve in the case. “It is through such selfless commitment to advancing social change that we are able to bring these landmark cases and effect transformational change”.
Lawyers at Debevoise & Plimpton, co-counsel in the lawsuit, said this about Steve: “Steve’s joy for life was abundantly clear from the first time we met him. His devotion to his partner David. His adoration for his dog. The only place he wanted to be was here on earth, with those he loved. He was fighting a Sisyphean battle, but every day he fought. Through his numerous ailments and daily challenges, he never once lost his sense of humor. Even when he was extremely ill, when we spoke with David, we could hear Steve in the background making jokes about how he should be careful with the timing of his passing so as not to interfere with trial. He was a lovely, joyful, and inspiring human being.”
Steve and his life partner, David Buraszeski, were together for 25 years. David said, “Steve was a wonderful and extraordinary man. He was loving, kind and generous. He had a great sense of humor and a zest for life. Steve fought numerous debilitating illnesses, courageously, over the last two decades of his life, never giving up on life and always willing to live another day even over the last year as various medical conditions worsened. Although he died in hospice, where he received excellent care, Steve wanted and should have had the option of aid in dying. I do not know whether he would have taken the medications if he had been able to obtain them. I do know that it would have made his final months easier. I will miss my dear Steve always.”
EOLCNY Executive Director David Leven said, “I had great admiration for Steve as a very thoughtful, pleasant and humorous man. Despite his many limitations, caused by various and serious ailments, he was willing to continue to live as best he could and to find meaning in his life. Steve fought for end of life justice. It did not happen while he lived but we will do all we can to ensure that Steve’s goal will ultimately be realized.”